Plotter or Pantser? #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


PLOTTER OR PANTSER? The question inevitably comes up whenever two writers meet. Opinions are strong on which is the best way to plot, and arguments against the other method sometimes leads to heated debates.

For those not familiar with the terminology, here is a brief description.

Plotters are writers who organize, plan, outline and have a full understanding of who their characters are and where the story is going before they sit down and write the first word.

Pantsers write “by the seat of their pants”. Generally, they start with a character or a situation and sit down, start writing and trust the story will come to them in the process.


Plotters:plotter or pantser

Plotters organize. They know what happens next, and if a new idea occurs, they think out the consequences before writing it into the story.

Plotting is an efficient use of time. Not everyone can make a living writing full time. What time we can squeeze out of a hectic schedule can be put to the best use.

Plotters have a purpose for each scene. A well thought-out plot minimizes scenes written because characters demanded it, or a sparkly new idea takes over. Not that plotters are immune to explore once the writing is started, but wasted time is less likely.

Rearrange scenes in outline form is less time consuming. Finding the problem in advance allows the writer to find alternate solutions without investing hours and pages of writing.

Pantsers:plotter or pantser

Stream-of-consciousness writing is fresh, and the magic of discovery ignites creativity.

The plot grows from story organically. The story emerges from the creative process.

Pantsers learn characters as they write. Who can know all the quirks, values and backgrounds of the main and secondary characters without discovering them while writing? Let them reveal themselves over the length of the book.

No boredom. If one scene isn’t working, they can switch to another, one with more gravity/fun/adventure/conflict.

Pantsers’ artistry is not compromised by rigid outlines.



It’s work. Figuring out all the intricacies of a book takes an enormous amount of time that could be spent writing. Research, character studies, character and plot arcs, calendars, spreadsheets – it can consume your time.

The quest to nail down every specific can work against a plotter as he details the book to death. At some point, he has to draw a line and start writing.

However meticulous the pre-writing is done, it’s impossible to know everything at once. Ideas do occur later. A research detail, or an overheard conversation can open the door to an otherwise unknown plot wrinkle.


Crappy 1st drafts with plot holes, sagging middles and scenes that do not add to the overall story.

Much editing & revision. Writing without a plan incorporates going back and foreshadowing or eliminating plot points that show up unexpectedly. Character reactions may be inconsistent and need to be brought in line. A story can go off track by myriad ways.

Abandoned projects as the next, great idea takes hold and demands attention.

Characters take over and lead to dead ends.



Try something organic – paint, sew, bake, take a nature walk. The freedom of not thinking about your story may bring a great idea to the surface.

Collage or scrapbook your story. This may already be a part of your pre-writing routine, but using the intuitive right side of your brain can feed ideas to the more analytical left side of your brain. The tactile process of creating brings your characters to life.

Write a brief scene that does not forward the plot but may add color and depth to your character.


Break down your story into manageable, smaller issues. Write down the things you want to happen in your story and put them in some semblance of order.

Discover the GMC of your characters. Don’t know what GMC is? It’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict, the teaching tool of Deb Dixon and her excellent book by the same name. It’s not hardcore outlining to fill in the blanks. . .

Character wants_______(goal) because _______(motivation) but_________(conflict.)

If you have these three elements, your book will be more solid, and your characters might not go off on so many tangents, wasting your valuable writing time.

Ask what the purpose of the scene is. If it’s not advancing the plot, it needs to go.

Write one story while you’re plotting the next. Your taste for spontaneity is satisfied by roughly outlining the next story while using your current outline to make daily word count on your work in progress.

Plotter or Pantser? Neither method is correct

Both work. I suspect most of us fall somewhere in the middle, and the extreme plotters and pantsers are on the edges of the bell curve. I fall closer to the plotter side of the equation (yes, I have used a spreadsheet or two) because I like to be organized. On the other hand, I like surprises.

My method? I write down all the things that have to happen, put them in order then fine-tune the outline as I write toward it. So, I’ll know X has to happen before Y, and Z is going to be a tremendous climax, but the smaller details (how the hero survives X and how to get all the players to Y) somehow magically take care of themselves. Author Barbara Samuel O’Neal calls the process “the girls in the basement,” and I’m a firm believer in the subconscious knowing exactly what’s going on and how to fix any problems.

Remember, be flexible. Nothing is carved in stone; nothing is out of the realm of possibilities. Be open to changes. Not all plotters are rigidly fused to their outlines, and not all pantsers are flower children, blown by the wind.

Play to your strengths and be open to improving the process. Take advantage of the other’s methods once in awhile and you’ll find your writing stronger and richer.

This article is an excerpt from my book The Plot Thickens:21 Ways to Plot Your Novel

Available on Amazon:



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10 Responses to Plotter or Pantser? #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. Tony Riches says:

    Great post – I rely on my outline and add details as I work, but I’d love to be like George RR Martin and have a detailed ‘concordance’ to refer to!

  2. Panster all the way here! But then – with historical fiction, the bones are already there. Great read – thanks.

  3. Re your cons for pantsing, I once heard an author speaking on the topic of plotting versus pantsing. He was a pantser, and he said he usually figured out 12-ish-thousand words into writing whether the story was going to work. My jaw may have dropped. I used to be a rigid plotter, but I think I’ve landed somewhere in the middle. Great post, Cheryl!

  4. KJ Chapman says:

    I’m a pantser, and I agree with your point that there is no right or wrong way. We just have to roll with what works.

    Great post!

  5. Louise says:

    I used to be a panster, then I tried plotting, and now I’m a mixture. I tend to know my characters before hand, I have a vague idea where I’m going, and I pants half a first draft. When I get stuck I go back to the drawing board to make a proper plan. I think part of me needs to write whatever I want to get to know my characters and stakes first, but never to the extent of finishing a first draft. My writing process is a mess ^^”

  6. Anna says:

    Interesting. I like to think I’m both and call myself a framer. I write out the story like a story round a campfire and eventually use it as a synopsis. Hit the basic points but keep it short. Once I’ve worked out the bugs and the suspense is rising, I get to the meat of it.

    There is freedom there. But like you said, I have a direction. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  7. I like the pros and cons – as you say, both can work well. I have found in my own writing that the pieces I carefully plot I end up liking more. I get more creative with structure and symbolism, whereas when I pants, those things have to be put in later, and the story as it stands may not accommodate them, or else maybe I’m just too lazy to make those enormous changes. Thanks for the advice! : )

  8. I’m a recovering pantser (one of those who comes up with a billion story ideas and then struggles with the “and so….”).
    Unfortunately, as a time-poor person, I just need to maximize the time I do have for writing, particularly given that it’s often in small chunks. I’ve found Libbie Hawker’s book and everything KM Weiland produces to be a Godsend.

  9. I guess I’m half and half. I plot in general and than pants a lot of it. And I meander off my plot all the time. The end stays the same though.

    Susan Says

  10. Excellent post. I fall in the middle, part plotter and part panster, so I call myself a PLanster lol. I find it is a big help when writing. I loved this post. Thanks for sharing.

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